7 Tips for a Successful Book Club

By Christine A. Krahling

Winter is the perfect time for curling up by the fireplace with a good book and then getting together with people who share your interests to discuss it. What a great way to beat the winter blues! In fact, book clubs that meet throughout the year are quite popular, offering friendship, fun and stimulating discussions of the written word, no matter what the genre. If you’ve thought about starting your own book club but aren’t quite sure where to begin, these tips should help pave the way:

Choose members wisely.
Seek out people who share similar reading interests or even try recruiting a member or two whose reading tastes might challenge your usual list of titles. Maryclaire Foundakos, of Forks Township, likes that her book club gives members a chance to “read books that we may not have chosen ourselves.” Draw up a list of friends, coworkers, neighbors and parents of your children’s friends and see how many people you think might be interested in starting a group. Remember, though, that just because you are friends with someone doesn’t mean they would make a good book club candidate; in fact, the opposite may be true: The person you see each week at the dance studio with a good book may be a great candidate, even if you haven’t yet exchanged first names.

When deciding on the number of people for your group, remember that there will be months in which one or more members may not attend for various reasons (illness, vacations, etc.) A group totaling five members may be too few, but 15 may be too many for most to accommodate comfortably in their living rooms, never mind trying to keep a group that size on track once the discussion begins. (See “Choose a Moderator” below.)

Decide what types of books your group will read.
In my experience as a book club founder and facilitator—and in talking with people from different book clubs around the country—it appears that fiction, nonfiction and memoir lend themselves to stimulating book club discussions, though there are groups that cater to mysteries, romance novels and other genres as well. While Foundakos’ group reads primarily fiction, historical fiction and the occasional memoir, this year the group will focus on the classics. Whatever you choose, make sure the decision is shared by all or you might find yourself with fewer members than you had intended.

Decide how often to meet and where.
Most book clubs typically meet once a month or once every six weeks, and some take a break in December and/or the summer months, opting instead to go out to dinner during the holiday season and offer a book swap or other type of gift exchange at that time. Given members’ summer vacation schedules, some groups end their meeting year in June–before their children finish school, for example—and then pick up again in September.

Book clubs that meet throughout the year are quite popular, offering friendship, fun and stimulating discussions.

Most book clubs I’ve known meet in people’s homes, though some meet at restaurants, book stores or church meeting rooms. If all members are comfortable hosting, the group can alternate homes each time depending on everyone’s schedule. When I started my book club, The Friends of Fiction, in 2001, we had a member who was the mom of several young children and did not wish to host. This did not pose a problem for our group as we all knew her feelings up front. Instead, one month she co-hosted at another member’s home and helped set up, clean up and prepare the food served. Those not hosting in a given month can offer to bring desserts or a bottle of wine to make things easier for that night’s host. (See “Decide if food will be served” below.)

Determine how books will be chosen.
Ah, so many books, so little time. Heather Mineo, of Palmer Township, says, “We are very informal with our book choices. I will usually have a few titles and everyone is encouraged to make suggestions. We have pretty much operated on a month-by-month basis with our choices; however, we know that in [2011] we would like to include

The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on our list.” Some groups opt to put titles in a hat and choose one for each time they meet; some like to choose the entire year’s books at once, and others like to choose books just a few months at a time, leaving room for new ideas members might discover along the way.

Decide if food will be served.
When researching this article, the overwhelming response to whether or not book clubs served food at their meetings was a resounding “Yes!” Preparations can be simple or fancy, depending on the group, and at times, the book. Foundakos says, “When possible, we try to showcase food/drinks that may have been mentioned within the books themselves. Otherwise, it is the host’s choice to provide snacks, desserts and drinks of choice.” Mineo adds: “We definitely put on a spread at our meetings! I usually will plan on one or two munchies, and then it seems like everyone comes with either a dish to add or a bottle of wine to share! Sometimes, we’ve been known to try and match our menu to a theme in the book, but that isn’t always easy.”

Choose a moderator.
Most book clubs I talked to have a moderator or discussion leader of some kind, even if it’s the host for that evening. It’s beneficial for the group if the moderator is someone who a) has read the book in its entirety and has a clear understanding of key plot points, b) has researched intelligent questions for discussion (at readinggroupguides.com, for example) and c) has no qualms about steering the discussion back on track if the group goes off-topic. While it’s fine to inject personal experience into a discussion (after all, one of the benefits of being in a book club is the sense of camaraderie it offers as well as the opportunity for friendship), monopolizing the conversation about every detail of your toddler’s potty-training experiences does not for a stimulating book club discussion make!

Sit back, relax and enjoy!
Book clubs offer a wonderful way to expand your horizons, stimulate your mind and, if you are truly blessed, make new friends. When asked what she enjoyed most about being in a book club, Mineo did not hesitate: “The friendship! I have had the opportunity to meet some very wonderful women and enjoy our Tuesday nights of talking books, but also laughing, sharing in each other’s lives, and giving or getting a hug as needed.”

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